War Hero

#picturefiction #flashfiction

Georgia Sinclair gritted her teeth as she shouldered the bag containing her interview materials. She hated these fluff pieces but knew she had no choice. Less than a year at the Tribune was not enough to warrant an assignment to a juicy story. She spent her days covering garden shows, ladies’ auxiliary charity events and other human interest pieces. She wrote the best articles she could and endeavored to make them as interesting as possible in the hope that her editor would finally hand her a real story. The Ravenhurst Institute was, for lack of a better word, a nut house. It was home to patients ranging from catatonic house wives to men who believed they were Napoleon; the facility even had a wing for the criminally insane. When Georgia spoke to Doctor Evans, the director of the facility, he had assured her that she could have access to any of the non-violent patients for her story on mental health.

Doctor Evans, a short, round man with a shiny bald head and thick round eye glasses which looked like shot glasses encasing his eyes met her at the door.

“Good afternoon Miss Sinclair, I trust your drive was pleasant?”

Georgia shook the proffered hand and nodded while giving her best professional smile.

“Yes, it’s a beautiful drive and you have a very picturesque facility. I can hardly wait to speak with some of your residents.”

“Excellent. If you’ll follow me I’ll bring you to our day room. You can interview anyone there who is willing to speak to you.”

Georgia had not exaggerated the beauty of the facility. Rich fabrics and lustrous wood was evident everywhere; the building looked more fit for a nobleman’s estate than a hospital for those who had lost their minds.

The day room was enormous, more like a ball room than a living room. Dozens of patients sat on couches and chairs scattered throughout the room. A television was showing an old movie in one corner although only one or two residents showed any interest. Most of the patients sat quietly or muttered to themselves or unseen beings who existed only in their minds.

“I can speak with anyone here?”

“Of course Miss Sinclair, the only limitation is if the patient does not wish to interact with you or asks to end the interview. Please respect their wishes, we wouldn’t want them to become upset if pressed too hard.”

“Certainly Doctor; I’m here for a human interest story, not investigative journalism. I promise to respect your patients.”

Doctor Evans shook her hand once more and indicated that he would return in an hour to escort her out.

Georgia looked around the room, hoping that something about one of the patients would draw her. Most appeared utterly disinterested in reality and she began to fear for her story, then she spotted an ancient man seated in a wheelchair near a large window. His eyes were focused and he appeared alert. He appeared to be enjoying the view of the gardens behind the facility.

“Hello sir,” she said in as gentle a voice as possible. “I’m Georgia Sinclair from the Tribune. I’m doing a story on the state of mental health care and was wondering if you would mind speaking to me.”

The old man looked up from his meditations and his face lit with joy. He smiled a wide toothless smile at Georgia and his eyes sparkled with excitement. He struck her as a sweet old man, much like her grandfather. She instantly liked him.

“Of course young lady, I’d be honored. Adam Marshall is my name. Pull up a chair.”

Georgia dragged an overstuffed wing back chair to a position opposite the old man and sat. She pulled out her tape recorder and notepad and settled herself into what she though of as her interview pose; legs crossed, leaning slightly toward her subject to show interest and pen poised to write down anything of value he provided.

“Thank you, sir. Would you mind telling me a bit about yourself to start?”

“Well, I was born just before the Depression in a little town in Missouri. I don’t even think it’s there anymore, blew away with the dust bowl probably. We weren’t no different than anyone else. Ma kept a tidy house by the sweat of her brow and Pa did whatever he could to put food on the table. Lost a couple brothers and sisters to sickness and injury but five of us survived. We grew up tough but family sticks together and we survived.

“I never made it past the sixth grade but back then things were different; we worked the land to earn our way. “

“If you don’t mind my asking Mister Marshall, what brought you to this place?”

“Oh that was during the war. Nasty business war; people dying all around you or trying to make you die. I was part of an expeditionary force sent to the jungles to find enemy strongholds. We never found no enemy soldiers but we did find an unknown tribe of cannibals.

“We found this village set in the bend of this big river. Nice folks, they fished and farmed; not that much different than the people I’d known my entire life. They were being preyed upon but a savage tribe that they said came from this haunted mountain. They would come in at night to attack the village and would steal women and children. They ate them you know; these savages were cannibals. Well my squad couldn’t stand by and let these poor villages get eaten by savages so we agreed to help them.

“The next time the cannibals attacked we were ready for them, but they were more savage than we could have imagined. Half my unit died in the initial wave. They came at us with spears and stone axes; they were like wild cave men. I’d never seen men so large either. They all stood nearly seven feet tall and you could empty your entire magazine into one before he died.  We fought them for three days. We killed hundreds of them but by the time it was over I was the last one left from my unit. I still see their faces when I sleep and well, it broke me. I was never quite the same and that’s how I ended up here.”

“Oh my God, Mister Marshall that’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard. You were so brave, sacrificing so much for people you didn’t even know. You’re a hero sir and I promise the world will know your story.”

Georgia asked him several more questions about his life but nothing in his answers could compare to the tale of violence and heroism he had shared. By the end of her hour  visit she had dozens of pages of notes and a recording which she was sure had Pulitzer written all over it.

She thanked the old man who was beginning to doze off in the warm sunshine coming through the window and went to wait for Doctor Evans.

“Did you find someone to interview Miss Sinclair?” Doctor Evans asked as he escorted her from the day room.

“Oh yes. I heard the most amazing tale from one of your older patients. He told me about his time in the war and how his unit saved a primitive tribe in the jungle. It was riveting and I think it will make a great story. Mister Marshall was a real hero.”

“Mister Marshall?” Doctor Evans stopped and turned toward Georgia. “Do you mean Adam Marshall?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Miss Sinclair, Adam Marshall never fought in the war. He was committed to this asylum in the 1930s. He murdered his entire family in cold blood. He stabbed his mother, father and four siblings to death when he was 13. According to the records they had also been partially consumed. When they found him he was raving about flesh eating cannibals having murdered them. He spent most of his life in our wing for the criminally insane and we’ve only recently moved him into the general population since he’s so old that he’s no longer a risk to anyone. He’s spent his entire life in this facility.”

Georgia stared aghast at the doctor and then down at the copious notes in her bag. She still had her story, it just wasn’t the one she thought she had.

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